A Simple Solution to Quit Sweating the Small Stuff

Photo by Namita Azad
Photo by Namita Azad
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The Challenge: We know we’re not supposed to sweat the small stuff…but we can’t help it!
The Science: Practicing loving-kindness meditation can help us deal with everyday stress.
The Solution: Here is the art & science of loving-kindness meditation!

The other day, after a long day at work, I found this note tucked into my windshield wiper: Please learn to park in the lines – and not on them…. Sincerely, person parked next to you.

WindshieldNote

At first I was taken aback: How could someone be so rude and passive-aggressive? My car was certainly not intruding on either of the adjacent parking spots, and as a New Jersey native, I can’t exactly be expected to drive with grace and finesse. After a few moments of mulling this situation over, I reminded myself of the importance of non-judgment, and my annoyance quickly turned to pity and empathy. My emissary was clearly suffering – and likely not only because of my slapdash parking job.

In our fast-paced, high-pressure society, we are continually faced with situations that induce stress, anxiety, frustration, and disaffection. In moments like this, practicing loving-kindness – an ancient form of meditation – can be extraordinarily useful. Loving-kindness helps “take the edge off,” making it easy to respond to difficult people or situations with empathy and openness, rather than anger and frustration.

So what is loving-kindness?

Known as mettā in Pali and maitrī in Sanskrit, loving-kindness is a type of meditation to help cultivate the four “immeasurables,” or cornerstone virtues, of Buddhism: loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative/sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Loving-kindness is similar to benevolence, or the deliverance of goodwill upon others – whether or not they deserve it. Gautama Buddha developed the practice of loving-kindness over 2500 years ago. Currently, loving-kindness is practiced worldwide, by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

How exactly does one cultivate loving-kindness?

Here is the basic mantra or script you will use for each step of the meditation:

May ___ be safe.

May ___ be happy.

May ___ be healthy.

May ___ live with ease.

In this progressive meditation, each “blank” represents a particular person:

  1. First, deliver self-compassion upon yourself: May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I live with ease. This can be surprisingly difficult for a lot of people, so be kind to yourself.
  2. Next, imagine someone who you love very dearly: May they be safe, happy, healthy, live with ease. In this stage, I often think about my partner, sister, parents, and close friends.
  3. Now it gets a little trickier: think about someone with whom it is challenging or difficult to work, live, or exist: May they be safe, happy, healthy, live with ease. Again, this can be difficult, so make sure to be patient. If it is too difficult to visualize this stage, then simply repeat #1 (self-compassion).
  4. This is one of my favorite stages: bring someone to mind with whom you interact frequently, but do not know very well. Sharon Salzberg suggests a grocer or postal worker; I often deliver loving-kindness to my neighbors, administrative support, and local baristas.
  5. To conclude, broaden the scope of your deliverance. Sometimes I think about the students and faculty on my campus; at other times, people in my neighborhood or country; members of my identity groups, such as Latinas/os and LGBTQ+ persons; or even the entire animal kingdom. The basic idea is to extend compassion and good-will to groups we may or may not know, or even like.

One of my favorite parts of this meditation is the flexibility it affords me, and the control I have over my practice. On days that I practice, I feel immense clarity, focus, benevolence, agreeableness, and compassion.  Research suggests that I am not alone.

In 2008, Cendri Hutcherson, Emma Seppala, and James Gross reported that even an abbreviated loving-kindness induction led to deeper feelings of social connectedness and warmth towards strangers. That same year, Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues demonstrated that loving-kindness practice increased adults’ social support, purpose in life, mindfulness, and life satisfaction. Since these seminal investigations, numerous other empirical studies have identified additional benefits of cultivating loving-kindness:

  • Decreased symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (link)
  • Improvement in back pain, anger levels, and psychological health among sufferers of chronic back pain (link)
  • Reduction of repetitive thoughts (link)
  • Improved cognitive processing (link)

Loving-kindness is not simply a Buddhist tradition. For instance, closely related are the Hebrew virtue of chesed, the Hindu/Jain value of ahisma (“nonviolence”), and the Greek concepts of agape (“unconditional love”) and theoria (“loving contemplation”). You don’t need to identify as Buddhist, religious, or spiritual to practice and reap the benefits of loving-kindness mediation. All you need is an open mind – and soon your heart will follow.

My challenge for you? Practice loving-kindness meditation. Try it once (but you will reap the most benefits if you make this a regular practice). You can do this anywhere – in your office, when waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or while riding public transportation. If possible, I suggest that you mediate somewhere quiet and peaceful, free of interruption.

There are many versions of loving-kindness meditation that vary in length, scope, and format (e.g., written text, guided audio). Your task will be to find a method that speaks to you.

Here are some of my favorite loving-kindness meditation resources:

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Verónica Caridad Rabelo
Verónica Caridad Rabelo is a PhD Candidate in Psychology (Personality & Social Contexts) and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Overall, her research interests include social identity and mistreatment in the workplace. Her current projects investigate gender identity and leadership emergence; sexual assault in the U.S. military; workplace harassment on the basis of gender and sexual orientation; and mindfulness and compassion among stigmatized employees. Verónica is a proud alumna of Williams College, where her passion for social justice and feminist psychology first sparked. In her spare time, Verónica enjoys doing puzzles, practicing yoga, and spending time in the sun.
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6 Comments

  • Kavitha says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful information in this post Verónica! I completely agree with all your findings and will continue to incorporate them in my life! I appreciate your advice in making the world more joyful and look forward to reading more from you! Keep it up and good luck! <3

  • Suranganie Dayaratne says:

    Great! continue this good work, so you can help those who are not able to feel for others, in their need, as well as ours.

  • centrino says:

    Thank you!
    Fyi, the link to the Emma site doesn’t work

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